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Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
One wonders if Ian Rankin still stands by his observation in the Daily Record in 2012: “Scandinavian crime writers are not better than Scottish ones, they just have better PR.” Is it true of Jo Nesbo? With more than 55mn books sold worldwide, Nesbo is unassailably the reigning king of Nordic noir as well as a global crime-writing superstar.
The Norwegian writer (and ex-footballer — and ex-rock star) has had misfires recently (such as a contemporary rejigging of Macbeth), but Killing Moon (Vintage, £22, translated by Seán Kinsella) is Nesbo back on gruesome form. World-weary detective Harry Hole, now struck off the force and living in Los Angeles, is up against a highly intelligent psychopath cutting a bloody swath through Oslo. When someone close to him is endangered, Harry is drawn back to his old stamping ground.
Kate Griffin’s exuberant debut novel, Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, was a glorious romp through the seedy yet irresistible world of the East End music halls of 1880s London. And subsequent historical crime novels have maintained the promise of that book. More Victorian menace is on offer in Griffin’s latest novel, Fyneshade (Viper, £16.99), with echoes of both Jane Eyre and The Secret Garden as beleaguered (but far from innocent) heroine Marta takes up a post at Fyneshade Hall as governess to the owner’s daughter — and encounters murderous family machinations.
Three cheers for a nonpareil new translation of The Widow Couderc (1942) by Georges Simenon (Penguin, £10.99, translated by Siân Reynolds). Simenon was the most successful writer of crime fiction in a language other than English in the entire field, and his French copper Maigret has become an institution. But his finest work lies in the romans durs, the non-Maigret standalones; in these, Simenon created a writing legacy quite as substantial as many a more “serious” writer. In fact, Albert Camus remarked: “If I hadn’t read The Widow Couderc, I wouldn’t have written The Outsider as I did.” With its sensuously detailed rustic setting and edgy interactions between a widow managing her own farm and the dissolute, privileged ex-convict Jean, this is incrementally more and more riveting, as the joyless sex between the two central characters leads to a grim conclusion.
The India-set historical novels of Anglo-Asian writers Vaseem Khan and Abir Mukherjee are making a mark on the British crime-fiction scene, and the Delhi-based writer and FT columnist Nilanjana Roy moves in similar geographical territory with the incisively written Black River (Pushkin Vertigo, £16.99), though the modern era is her fiefdom. Following the death of an eight-year-old girl in a nondescript village, Roy’s under-resourced protagonist, Inspector Ombir Singh, tracks down a murderer while distractedly trying to save his marriage. A literary thriller of considerable acumen with a textured picture of a country.
A trip to the fictional Charon County on Chesapeake Bay is an uncomfortable journey in All the Sinners Bleed by SA Cosby (Headline, £20). After a school shooting, various abuses affecting black children come to light with a killer utilising scriptural motifs. It’s up to recently elected sheriff Titus Crown to battle a virtual army of racist bigots. Cosby may spend more time characterising his conflicted hero than his uniformly loathsome heavies, but, as in such previous successes by the author as Razorblade Tears, we are reminded that Cosby is primus inter pares among the current wave of exemplary US crime novelists writing from an African-American perspective.
Three British women writers of considerable accomplishment: The Square of Sevens (Mantle, £18.99) is a reminder that Laura Shepherd-Robinson is riding high in the historical crime stakes; this is a sprawling epic novel set in Georgian high society, with its lively fortune-telling heroine Red unearthing her own lethal legacy. Murder in the Family by Cara Hunter (HarperCollins, £8.99) challenges the reader to solve a brutal murder in a house in London. It’s a stunning and ingenious novel (now optioned for television) from the creator of the DI Adam Fawley series. And Kate Rhodes’ The Brutal Tide (Simon & Schuster, £8.99) is the latest in her psychologically truthful Ben Kitto series, with the Scilly Isles community having to deal with murderous secrets from its past.
This is also a golden period for handsome reissues of classic crime. First published in the 1930s, the green Penguin paperbacks are emblematic of the genre, and a well-curated selection of some of the best books has reappeared in the classic livery, including Ross Macdonald’s The Drowning Pool, Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair and Eric Ambler’s Journey into Fear — all at £9.99.
Barry Forshaw is the author of ‘Simenon: The Man, The Books, The Films’
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